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My birthday is a touchy subject.
Not just because of the concept of age and decay, but because I have always struggled with disappointment when it comes to celebrating its return.
I’ve had some pretty rough attempts, from when I was a child and got the stomach flu to when the pandemic started two years ago, to breakups and canceled trips, but it hasn’t always been this bleak.
In my younger years, I would look forward to the new freedoms that come with each passing year, from becoming a preteen, to turning 16, to being liberated at 18, to bars and dancing at 21.
As time has passed and as I age into true adulthood (whatever that means), my birthday has become compounded with reasons to no longer look forward to it. Every year when it begins to approach, I try to release my expectations and brace myself for impact.
This year, I found myself beginning to add to the already ample list of reasons to dread this annual affair.
The past couple of years have heralded great losses for so many of us, and I am no exception. It has been full of obstacles, hard-learned lessons, tests of our resolve, and many opportunities to take up old patterns of self-destruction. It’s been difficult to grow in the same fashion I always considered growth should occur, in some forward and forever upward motion, and instead, growth has taken on the form of resiliency, the practice of letting go, and the willpower to continue trying even when setbacks lurk behind each turn of the wheel.
With this more subtle expression of growth, the sensation of stagnancy can easily sneak in and is often difficult to shake. It incites me to feel as though the years I have lived in this confusing and maddening time for our species have somehow set me back, or simply aren’t wort acknowledging, let alone celebrating.
Despite all of this, I have managed to uncover something new to me, something I have missed in all my years of birthday dread, something that, without these shifts in my perspective of growth and survival, may not have presented itself until I was much older, if ever.
This year, I am celebrating not because some exciting change awaits or I have achieved some grand version of myself. This year, I am celebrating because I have managed to make it another turn of the wheel on this wild planet, on this wild journey of human experience.
I’m certain this perspective isn’t new to some folks, and I am aware that anyone who has fought and won the battle against illness and disease has most likely come to this conclusion, but I believe it is something we lose sight of when our lives are smooth.
Though I wouldn’t say my past has been a walk in the park, it has certainly been easy enough to miss this important detail. I am reminded of humanity in the not-so-distant past, when the lack of modern medicine allotted many people with early deaths and difficult illnesses that could not be cured, and how much the number of years we survived actually meant when they had so many odds against them.
I am reminded of how precious it was for a child to survive infancy and adolescence, let alone carry on past early adulthood. While great progress has been made, this is a reality that persists today in many ways, and the losses of these past couple of years have served to remind me that there are still many challenges yet to arise, and many of the same old ones to contend with.
To be able to call myself another year older is in itself a great privilege, one many of us do not share. Regardless of what challenges await on that specific day or how much farther I wish I was in my pursuits, I have found a sense of deep gratitude for the opportunity to even be alive, to be here, to simply exist, and to continue down the path and into whatever obstacles lie ahead.
In honoring the gift of my own continuation, I am better able to honor those who do not get the same chance and can actually accept the gift of my own life, struggles, victories, and everything in-between, as the ultimate birthday present.
In this, I cannot be disappointed.